Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It Was 30 Years Ago Today: The Best Films of 1984

So, to coincide with Forgotten Film's blogathon, neatly called the 1984-A-Thon, I give to you, my ten favourite films of 1984. Previously I had done a best/favourite films list for 1967, the year of my birth. That too was a blogathon contribution. Gotta love the blogathon. Anyway, as much as 1967 was an important year in my life, though I really only have fuzzy memories of that year, 1984 was also a somewhat monumental year in my so-called upbringing. In case you're as bad at math as I am, 1984 was the year I turned seventeen. It was also the year I got my first car - via my parents buying it for my seventeenth birthday. It was a gigantic green 1976 Grand LeMans. A real boat of a car, but I loved that beast. But that wasn't the most significant happening of 1984. No sirree. The most significant thing for me was the first major purchase I made with my own money. That would be a VCR. Kids, go ask your parents what a VCR is. I'll wait. Anyway, this led to me really digging into my cinephile ways in 1984. Sort of the birth of a die hard cinephile.

I'm not sure why I just regaled you all with that story. Most of the first films I watched on my new VCR, were older, sometimes classic films. Sure, I rented new releases too, but it was mainly my introduction to the cinematic past. None of this really has anything to do with the movies of 1984, nor which ones happened to be my favourites. But nonetheless, the story stays, and we move on to the year that was 1984. But before we get to the inevitable countdown, please allow me a moment or two, to list some runners-up and/or honourable mentions. These films, in no particular order, are: Amadeus, Places in the Heart, Choose Me, Beverly Hills Cop, A Soldier's Story, Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, A Passage to India, Purple Rain (for the soundtrack only!), Repo Man, A Private Function, Broadway Danny Rose, Gremlins, Starman, The Times of Harvey Milk, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. So there ya go. Now on with the countdown.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Wes Craven, who had already given the cinematic world such neo-classical horror films as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, turns his talents toward the world of dreams...and manages to make them quite terrifying. Yes, the series would get quite ridiculous as the sequel numbers grew higher and higher, but the original film is actually quite good and quite intense. A classic horror film done in a modern style, Nightmare may very well be one of the best damn horror movies of the entire decade as well.

9. All of Me

When the New York Film Critics surprised everyone and awarded Steve Martin its Best Actor award in December of 1984, it pretty much blew everyone away. Rex Reed, the misanthropic asshat that he is, smugly called the organization out for doing such a thing. But a surprise or not, Martin deserved the honor. All of Me, a film wherein Lily Tomlin's soul has taken over half of Martin's body, was kind of a revelation. It was the first time we saw Martin doing a more mature type of comedy. Granted, the film is still full of the silly antics we all loved from the comic, but it also had a sophistication as of yet unseen in Martin's film work. Martin himself claims that this was his first mature work, but that his mature period would end a few years later with L.A. Story. Ha!

8. Love Streams

Love Streams is the penultimate film of auteur John Cassavetes storied indie filmmaking career. It is the story of a hedonistic alcoholic man and his relationship with his long-suffering sister. The brother and sister are portrayed by real life husband and wife, Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. The film actually looks less like a Cassavetes film than any of the director's previous films, as his voyeuristic, hand-held camera style is dropped for a more straight forward, almost mainstream (or at least mainstreamy), but this does not make the film any less powerful. 

7. Stranger Than Paradise

Jim Jarmusch's second film, and basically the director's breakout work, is an absurdist comedy done in the deadpan style that has come to define the oeuvre of Mr. Jarmusch. Shot in crisp black and white, this road film follows a pair of hipster layabouts, an the one's Hungarian cousin, who are bored with their lives. The film stars Jazz musician John Lurie and former Sonic Youth drummer turned actor, Richard Edson. This early Jarmusch film shows many of the stylistic flourishes that would make the filmmaker one of the best indie filmmakers working today.

6. The Killing Fields

This film was nominated for a slew of Oscars in 1984, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor, and would win non-professional Cambodian doctor, Haing S, Ngor an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The amazing part about Dr. Ngor's performance was that he was pretty much playing a part that he actually lived, as a refugee from the Vietnam War. The film, with the performances of both Ngor and leading man Sam Waterston, is a powerful  beast, without ever delving into the manipulative drivel that Hollywood tends to turn such stories into.

5. Ghostbusters

Who ya gonna call!? I think we all know the answer to that one. At first sight, one might think of a movie such as Ghostbusters, as just another silly 1980's comedy, but the film is actually a deftly written satire, and should be thought of as so. A veritable laugh riot, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis are all kinds of hilarious in their roles as the titular spook hunters. So much so that I have actually tried to live my life as Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray's character for those not in the know) would. That's an okay thing, right?

4. This is Spinal Tap

Still to this day, my wife and I cannot look at the number eleven, without doing Christopher Guest's classic line, "These go to eleven." Last year, while we were visiting Las Vegas, we stayed on the eleventh floor of the Paris Hotel. Every single time we got in the elevator, either my wife or I would say the line. Every. Single. Time. It would crack us the hell up, but our fellow elevator riders tended to just give us strange looks, as if we were crazy. Well, I guess we were crazy, but it was still fun...and so is this movie. On a scale of one to ten, I think I would rate this...well, I'm sure you can guess what number I would give to the film. Yup.

3. Paris, Texas

The unanimous winner of the 1984 Palme d'Or, at the Cannes Film Festival, this is my all-time favourite Wim Wenders film. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, one of the most underrated actors of his day, model turned actress Nastassja Kinski, daughter of madman Klaus Kinski, and Dean Stockwell, just at the start of the former child actor's independently-minded resurgence in Hollywood. Beautiful and tragic, Wenders film envelopes the viewer with an overwhelming sense of both dread and hope. It is a unique film experience indeed. 

2. Blood Simple

This is the debut film of brothers Ethan and Joel Coen. It is also the debut film of Frances McDormand, the then new wife of director Joel Coen. Blood Simple is a neo-noir story of deceit and deception and all that kind of stuff, and stars McDormand and Dan Hedaya as a husband and wife, and John Getz as her lover. Highly stylized, this was the film that put the Coen Brothers on the map. The highlight of the film though, is the bravura performance of M. Emmet Walsh as the private dick who is hired by Hedaya to track down his wife and her lover.

1. Once Upon A Time in America

The late great Sergio Leone made some of the best westerns in film history. A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West, are easily three of the best westerns ever made. Now cut to 1984, and the film that would end up being the great auteur's final work. This time though, Leone left the West behind, tossed in Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Tuesday Weld, and gave us one of the finest gangster films ever made. Originally running at 229 minutes, the studio cut and slashed the film down to 139 minutes for its US release, and the film was panned for being too chopy and not making much sense. Once the film was put back together, it was suddenly heralded as the rightful masterpiece it damn well is.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I hope you don't shock the male students even when they have guessed it is a wavy line:) The Killing Fields is superb and to think that he lost his family in that nightmarish world and then lose his life here is so sad. There are some films here I have not seen and one day, plan to. I just watched Beverly Hills Cop. Loved Starman and even watched the short-lived series with Lee Van Cleef. I was 20 and don't remember much so that was a fun year